What is Too Political for Fun?

Every time I publish a book, I know I’ll get some angry letters, and readers response to Breakdown proved no exception. “I just threw away my hardcover copy,” one reader wrote. “Keep your politics to yourself. I read for fun,” wrote another. I will say that the positive mail outnumbered the negative by over 10 to 1, but the negative mail does give me pause. “Why do you hate rich people?” One reader asked. “They’re always your villains.” Another asked why I hate conservatives.

First of all, like Shylock, I bleed when you prick me, so angry letters do sting, but they also make me start wondering what my writing should and shouldn’t be.

Second, I don’t try to write political novels. I write novels that spring out of contemporary social issues, because those provide a fertile field for crime. I come from a place where radio and TV shows routinely call the President “A Muslim terrorist,” or “Muslim socialist.” The leader of the state legislature recently sent an email to his “A” list calling for prayers for the President’s death and referred to the First Lady as “Yo-Mama.” Tea party rallies, in their heyday, would show caricatures of the President with crude racial slogans.

These political/social realities caused me to create an African-American politician who gets subjected to the same abuse that has been ladled onto the President. I don’t know if that makes the book so political that it can’t be read for entertainment. After all, that’s what I am–an entertainer. Would my books be more entertaining if they featured disputed wills and missing children, instead of people struggling with First and Fourth Amendment freedoms?

My novel Blacklist actually featured a villain who had impeccable progressive credentials but some readers hated it because it also included an Egyptian boy who was a refugee on the run–for those readers, Blacklist was too political–they said I was siding with terrorists. Like President Obama, apparently.

I don’t know what the answer is, as I start work on a new novel. How much should I shape my writing, my story-telling, in response to your expectations?


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May 2022